Deeptech is the Next Big thing for Investors in SEA

Birender Singh

Birender Singh

Some of the most prominent startups in Southeast Asia are consumer-driven, like Gojek, Grab, Sea, Tokopedia and Carousell. They have attracted the most significant chunk of the investment pie over the years, with some of them turning into unicorns.

All these companies are growing, and the growth potential is enormous. The number of internet users in the region is 400 million, for a population of 681 million. That leaves a large number of people who are still left to jump on to the digital revolution bandwagon. But, this growth is not limitless, and companies are bound to reach saturation levels sooner or later.

This is where big-tech emerges, where startups develop their own unique, patented technologies that are highly protected and difficult to reproduce. These companies offer niche, highly specialized products to select groups.

Funding is crucial for the development of the Deep-tech Segment

Most of the startups now use commonly available technologies and target a similar customer base with little tweaks on the fringes, like pricing, models of delivery etc. But Deeptech is where companies get to develop their own unique profile. Doing this takes a lot of R&D, investment and time, like in the case of startup Shiok Meats from Singapore, which develops lab-cultured shrimps and crabs from cells.

Sandhya Sriram, CEO and co-founder of the company, said at the Future of Asia conference recently that bio-entrepreneurship is still new to Asia and even to Singapore. Shiok Meats is an important business as it addresses issues of global warming and future food shortages, she said.

Shiok expects to release its products into the market next year after regulatory approvals. Countries need to have solid regulatory mechanisms for companies like hers to start and thrive. She said Singapore had been a great first country to start off as it is in the middle of Southeast Asia, and products and services developed here can easily be expanded to the neighborhood.

Startups are focusing their energies on addressing some of the issues of the region, like agriculture, healthcare for the aging populations and environmental technology using artificial intelligence (AI) and other deep tech solutions to further open taps of funds.

Other notable Deep-tech startups in SEA

Some of these companies are focusing on deep tech and have received funding over the last few months. Singapore’s RWDC received $13million for its biotech ventures, Thailand’s AnyMind Group got $21.4 million for its AI-based adTech project, and RedDoorz basketed $700 million as it streamlines hotel business across Southeast Asia. Also, Holmusk secured $9.75 million to help in its efforts at streamlining mental health issues, fintech firm Silot bagged $8 million to add AI to its banking operations and Umitron $11 million for using IoT to help farmers with their operations.

An AI leader in the region is Malaysia-based Glueck, which analyses facial features, ethnicity, gender and age of customers to help its clients promote suitable advertisements.

Most of the existing startups are also including AI and other deep tech solutions in their operations. Ride-hailing app Grab uses AI for its maps and fraud detection. It is working with Microsoft to develop a face-recognition system to analyze the features of its passengers to push the suitable advertisements.

ViSenze, based out of Singapore, is applying AI in e-commerce to enhance customers’ shopping experience.

Robot3T from Vietnam is one of the leading robotics firms in the region. It develops high-precision robots for small and medium enterprises. These robots are not only easy to operate but are also cost-effective.

Countless examples prove that Southeast Asia is moving fast towards deep tech, and investors are also showing an increased interest in this emerging sector.